Here's the thing! "I have a friend who's been told that his blurb sucks! What can he do about it, Doctor?" (You're thinking: 1) There's no friend - it's him; and 2) Who's the Doctor?) Well, let me put your overactive mind at rest. A1) It's not me (I've never had any feedback on my blurbs - feel free if you have 11 moments); and A2) I am a Doctor - I have a PhD (no not in writing blurbs, but hey!) - so there! (Sticks thumbs up against temples and wiggles fingers! What the hell is that?)
Now, I suppose you - like me, simply write a few sentences for the blurb and wing it. Who'd have thought that knowledgeable people would have written reams of advice on writing a bit of blurb for a book! Well, they have, and here's the first one that came up on my Internet search: Marilynn Byerly who says that, Blurbs are the second most important selling tool you have for your book, so you want it to grab the reader's attention. I expect the first one is the book itself! Okay, Marilynn, I'm listening? Life's never a bowl of cherries though, is it? She breaks her advice down into Romance, Romantic Suspense, Science Fiction & Fantasy, and Mystery & Suspense. Seeing as I hate Romance, because it makes me cry - as if!, and Science Fiction & Fantasy has limited appeal to a few Trekkies and those wierdos who wear black clothes, nail varnish, make-up, and have a plague of piercings in strange places, I looked at Mystery & Suspense.
I'm going to use one of my blurbs to pull apart (for fear of upsetting anyone else). This one is from Jacob's Ladder - a slow seller! (Which surprises me because it was my latest one before The Wages of Sin, and it took me ages to write the blurb because there are two main characters):
A serial killer returns to butcher a fourth family and carve a symbol into the flesh of a little girl's forehead. Ex-DI Cole Randall is released from Springfield Asylum after a year of being committed indefinitely for killing the previous three families - including his own. Now he's out for revenge, and then he's going to join his wife and children.
Randall's ex-partner - DI Molly Stone - has been given the case, but she only has seven days to solve the riddle of the symbols and how a renowned international financier can be in two places at the same time. She knows Randall wants revenge, but she also knows she needs his help, and she agrees to an unorthodox partnership.
They begin their search for a serial killer. Randall also searches for redemption, but finds love; and Molly searches for love, but finds terror.
Now, Marilynn says that the first paragraph should consist of a: Simple plot set up, and main character's emotional involvement with it. What is the exterior conflict of the novel? I don't know about you, but I think my first two paragraphs describe the plot in simple terms - a serial killer butchering families, and Randall and Stone have to catch him! Also, Randall's emotional involvement is made clear, as is the multiple conflicts in the story.
She continues for the second paragraph: More simple plot set up and the main character's or second lead's emotional involvement with it. OR Information on the victim. Okay, I think I did that! Molly Stone is actually the lead protagonist, and Cole Randall is the secondary lead, so the paragraphs could be swapped, but I don't think it matters (unless, of course, you know better?)
Finally, the third and fourth paragraphs: What is the interior conflict of the novel? What must the main character achieve or defeat and what does he have to lose? This can include plot set up, place set up, the important secondary characters, and the villain. Well, I've only got a third paragraph (I like to keep the blurb short), and it focuses on emotions - redemption/love and love/terror. So, in my humble opinion I think that this particular blurb - by Marilynn's standards - is pretty wicked, which then begs the question, "Why is it a slow seller?' Please feel free to comment and give me the benefit of your vast experience as a reader. Does it grab your attention? Does it tantalise you?
Her final words are: Remember that your book is about people, not setting, historical location, or scientific facts. Don't emphasize any of them over your characters. Wise words - focus on the people.
Let's see what others have to say on the subject. Ann Trent on eHow writes: A blurb quickly summarizes the plot and tantalizes potential readers. It serves as a sales pitch to the reader, and often the success of a book can depend on the quality of the blurb. It is important for all writers to understand how to write an effective blurb to increase saleability and exposure. Okay, I'm listening, Ann, whisper sweet blurbs in my ear!
Oooh a list! I love lists: 1) Write your blurb in present tense and in third person with active, direct language; 2) Quickly summarize the basic plot, but don't give too much away. Your blurb should indicate what your story is about in general and the central conflict, but avoid long explanations and sub-plots; 3) Introduce main characters by name and give a sense of their personality and motivation. Since plot often moves on the basis of a character's choices, a reader must know the character's basic motives and any specific elements of their story that help to explain or clarify the plot; 4) Indicate the setting of the story in vibrant, interesting language. Let the reader know if your story is set in a very specific place (such as a historical castle or famous location) and use descriptive language to make your setting interesting to the reader; 5) Leave the reader with some sense of mystery. Often, using questions can achieve this.
Now, call me a wonderful person, but I think I nailed my blurb! (Hey, when you've got it you've got it, and when you ain't you ain't!) But please feel free to differ if you've got nothing else better to do - like re-write your own blurb!
Now, I'm not one to suggest that two people's opinions constitute an overwhelming abundance of evidence, so let me give you some more websites where you can read about blurbs to your heart's content: PublishingBasics, HighlightingWriting, ArticleBase, PenguinBlog, TheCreativePenn, WritersRelief, Wheatmark, WriteWords, Floor-to-Ceiling-Books.
Here's some recent research carried out by Tania Tirraoro at Not As Advertised, which suggests that blurbs are the number one reason a sale isn't closed. Have a nice day!
Hi, I'm Tim Ellis - I write a lot and I hope you enjoy what I write.